Agatha Christie and The Hollow (1946): Are Gerda Christow and Henrietta Savernake representations of Christie herself?

· Literature, Popular culture

Agatha Christie’s The Hollow was published in 1946. I find this book to be very autobiographical in a kind of hidden way. I have nothing but respect for this woman because I think not only was she a brilliant artist, but also a warm, loving human being. Often someone as genius as she would be narcissistic, but she does not seem to have suffered from that quality. I do see her in two different characters in this novel, Gerda and Henrietta.


In Gerda, she depicts a woman who is always accused of being slow by the people around her. I remember reading in Agatha’s Autobiography how when she was a child she too was a victim of this, and it was only when she reached adulthood that she realized she was not in fact slow, it was just that her siblings and others were unusually quick. Gerda has the secret satisfaction of knowing that she is much smarter than people give her credit for. I suspect that Christie shared that satisfaction.


I also see Christie in Henrietta. And I think my theory is very exciting (although of course I could be completely wrong). At the end of the psychologically rich murder mystery, Henrietta, who is a sculptress, grieves for her lover John Christow in her own unique way. With an apology to him, she creates an alabaster sculpture in his memory. She knows, based on a conversation they had previously, that he would hate this. He wanted to be grieved properly after he died. However, while she accepts this on an intellectual level, she cannot stop herself from obeying the artistic impulse that propels her to sculpting a grieving monument to his memory. She does it with tears streaming down her face, hating herself for not being the normal woman she wishes to be, and she knows her lover wanted, but she has to do it. She has no choice. Her art comes before her personal life.


From all that I have read about Christie, I think when she was writing about Henrietta, she was really writing about herself. I have read a lot of biographies about the best-selling author in the world, and I have read in these that her daughter Rosalind sometimes blamed the breakup of her mother’s marriage to Archie Christie on her mother because her mother had neglected him in the early years of their marriage. This encouraged him to have an affair, to get attention elsewhere. Whether or not this is true, I do not know, obviously. And even if it is, I do not blame Agatha Christie. We cannot help who we are. Perhaps she was like Henrietta, someone whose artistic impulses could not be denied. Perhaps the analogy to Henrietta’s final sculpture of grieving in The Hollow is Christie’s literature: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Secret Adversary, The Murder on the Links, Poirot Investigates, The Man in the Brown Suit, The Secret of Chimneys, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.


She was a married woman and especially in her period of time, she was expected (and warned by her mother, incidentally) to focus as much attention and care on her husband as possible, lest he stray. But her artistic impulse was too great. It could not be denied, and unfortunately, her marriage was sacrificed. Because Agatha Christie was often so self-deprecating about her own work and her own talent, it can be very easily to overlook, in a kind of trap, how special her genius was. It seems like it would have been an incredible waste if her talent had not been displayed for the world. Perhaps on some level she realized this and sacrificed her marriage for the greatness of her craft, for which she had an instinctual feel.


Hats off to Agatha Christie, whether my theory is true or not. And I hope I haven’t been presumptuous. But I’m fascinated by this woman, and I think that there are certain definite parallels between her life and work. Do you think this could be one of them? 

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  1. Tali Avishay

    While I find your thoughts interesting – I never thought about the similarity between Henrietta and Agatha Christie, and you may have a point – I’m not sure Rosemary was the best judge of her parent’s relationship. The autobiography presents a completely different picture – of a young bride who was ready do go around the world with her husband for his job, who was always with him till her mother died and the job fell on her to dismantle her mother and the previous generations’ possesions, and she had do spend a few weeks away. She asked her husband to spend weekends with her and their daughter – he refused because “it would interfere with his golf”. Then he fell in love with a golf partner, refused Agatha Christie’s plea that they try to work things out and made things as miserable for her as possible till she had a breakdown and eventually gave in. And after all that, she admits to a lingering guilt that she didn’t keep him! Would we be so quick to accuse a husband of that period of neglect because he spent several weeks away from his wife in the course of duty? Of course that is her story – but Rosmary was a young child at the time, so her version is not more reliable. With all due respect to the Christie family, my feeling is that Commander Christie was a spoiled brat, and that her second husband, Max Mallowan was by far the better man.

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